Publisher Profile

Grover’s Travels: A Swiftian Hi-Fi Experience

By: |

Apart from the points above, I don’t think there’s much about the hobby that is generational. Computer audiophiles, as they’ve been labeled, remain firmly invested in sound quality and, like myself, eager enthusiasts when it comes to both headphone and loudspeaker listening.

The cost of gear is not so much of a factor, given that there will always be plenty of sensibly priced high performing products in addition to those in the tens of thousands of dollars—if you know what you want and know where to look. Some of these young folks should be interested in attending audio shows to see not only what’s out there, but to interact with the industry, and possibly even affect change in function, features, design and price. At the age of 24, I’ve been in the industry for a year or two, and with that I’m still the youngest person in the room by 10-15 years at Head-Fi shows and easily 25+ years at Hi-Fi shows. So, maybe this is more generational than I thought.

I just went to Nashville to attend NAMM, which is essentially the pro-audio/music equivalent of Hi-Fi’s AXPONA held just outside of Chicago. The cultural differences between the two are clearly evident. Even at Head-Fi shows where the crowd is older, they are more interested in solitary listening experiences (with their music tastes being limited as well). The nagging diversity complaints in the audiophile realm simply don’t hold water in the Pro-Audio sector. The professionals are people from every walk of life, making music with high quality equipment though, ironically, not listening to it with the same quality gear.

The older two-channel bastion gate-keep High-End audio with all the trappings from the 70’s, what is purported to be Hi-Fi’s golden age. And for the most part these folks’ values have shifted upwards to relatively more expensive and elaborate systems. Sadly, this comes at a price—closed-mindedness with respect to gear selection, set-up, room design and, perhaps most damning, speaker placement. Meanwhile, the headphone crowd is more likely to be Generation X (Gen-X), than the more well-heeled baby-boomers, and subsequently less likely to afford the dizzying Hi-Fi heights. Such gate-keeping does not move the hobby forward.

Millennials (Gen-Y) are quite possibly more of a factor in the computer audiophile segment, with less presence than the serious audio communities, and these folks in their mid 30’s, twenties and younger simply are without an established community. They are for the most part outsiders, strangers in a strange land (h/t Robert Heinlein), with the possible exception of those on the bleeding edge, the hardware hackers looking to change the world one Raspberry Pi, one Sparky, one Arduino at a time. No gatekeepers need apply.

Price/cost is a double-edged sword. Headphones are more portable and less expensive. Even at the extreme high end, rigs struggle to top $5,000-$6,000, and surpassing $10,000 requires going over the top with the extremely exotic, bling-worthy gear. In comparison, two-channel systems running into the hundreds of thousands more often over-promise and under-deliver, especially at shows where most systems don’t live up to their billing. That being said, there are reasonably priced systems and gear out there, and some speakers for the money can deliver exceptional bang for the buck. 🙂 Think of this as that other edge.

It’s not just about the gear, there’s music not only heard but to be listened to, enjoyed, and appreciated. Hence the great debate: What music is to be played in the exhibitor’s room at the show? I’ve noticed there are two basic rooms: those where people complain about the music being selected and the other where the same narrow canon of artists and genres are played ad-nauseum. Sadly, it is in the latter rooms where you’re more likely to encounter the dour-faced manufacturer/company representative, while in the former you’ll find those mistakenly believing that they are hip, somehow magically in tune with today’s generation, in other words cool beyond their …

Seriously though, with the passing of time, playing Led Zeppelin is going to win out over Bach every day of the week and twice on Sunday. From personal experience running rooms at shows, attendees vote with their feet (don’t forget the Awards Ballot. -pub). Rock music as a genre is a safer bet than most as it includes so many popular sub-genres of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, the sweet-spots for most established traditional two-channel audiophiles. So, what music does play to attract today’s generation? Their interests are more diverse than ever. Assumptions of old are no longer applicable.

There are plenty of music school grads who don’t mind hearing Bach or Beethoven at all, and they probably know classical music far better than the average audiophile. Likewise, the obvious genres like indie rock, Neo-Soul, Rap and pop all have recordings, much like any genre, which are both musically and sonically superb. Instead of Katy Perry try Carly Rae Jepsen, instead of Jay-Z try D’Angelo, instead of Mumford and Sons try The Punch Brothers. There are a myriad of possibilities, and of course things like the New Album Release Project (https://www.facebook.com/groups/thenarp) is a great way to discover new music that is being recorded, mixed and mastered well.

Modern music’s quality is not the issue. In fact, there isn’t any trouble with any recorded music; there’s good stuff to listen to from every corner of the world and from every era, something I think the generations can learn from each other. I’ve taken joy in hearing and sharing recordings old and new regardless of generation, and I learn just as much from experienced listeners who have old, well-worn gems as from young, upcoming music tastemakers.

Having both run and attended rooms at audio shows, I can tell you with absolute certainty that musical selection is king, and while you can’t make everyone happy, you can piss them off pretty easily. Music that draws in young people—Janelle Monae, for example—will drive off older folks, but the reverse isn’t necessarily the case, mostly because young people aren’t as set in their ways yet, especially if the audio hobby is still new. Sure, they have tastes and likes, but most of the younger crowd I’ve talked to in the audio industry is much more open to new and different music than the established audiophiles.

Hence, it’s not a simple matter of pandering to tastes, but rather variety. Again, this really isn’t a generational difference. At a surface level, musical familiarity will draw new listeners in, but you’re more likely to keep them there by playing things they like. The point is that modern music isn’t a barrier to getting younger crowds to listen—it is the people selecting the music. #gatekeepers

Let me take a moment to affirm the following: I am not here to attack the status quo in the audio industry, as I enjoy attending Hi-Fi shows and interacting with folks in the industry. However, when asked by the gatekeepers what’s going to get the young ones into audio as a hobby, I had to pause, take a breath, and determine do I answer with the truth or The Truth.

 

Truth #1

As someone in the industry who cannot begin to assimilate with today’s generation, do not even make the attempt, as it will come off as being disingenuous, and with that it is game over, there is no turning back.

 

Truth #2

Hi-Fi for the enthusiast is a hobby, a niche hobby, and as such neither headphones nor cheap gear is going to draw them in. It will take more than material acquisitions to get them interested enough to ensure their participation and commitment. Today’s generation is about community, events, recordable moments, etc.

 

I’d ask those asking the question, what drew them initially as Hi-Fi hobbyists and now audiophiles? The factors making this possible in the 70’s were outside the control of the industry, so it’s foolish for today’s industry to believe it can and will have any impact.

Sounds kinda bleak, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We need to be open to new experiences and be far less rigid, less dogmatic in our collective/respective beliefs about how the hobby should be experienced. Again, remember what it was like for each one of us when we first got into Hi-Fi and, most importantly, what made it fun!!!!

There are audiophiles and audio-nerds. The latter are passionate and truly understand the idea of audio in all its forms. Often those in the latter group originate from non-traditional places. Beyond possessing phenomenal ears, they are recording engineers, musicians, Head-Fi listeners and Hi-Fi enthusiasts. Examples of such are EveAnna Manley (Manley Audio), and Mike Moffat (Schiit), who march to the tunes of different drummers, swimming simultaneously in multiple ponds, setting themselves apart. They are a cast of characters doing it their way, subverting the norm. I see myself in this camp, first and foremost as a musician and a recording engineer, for whom being an audiophile is integral to my identity as Grover.

If that’s so where does that leave self-proclaimed audiophiles? It is important for them to grasp that, in today’s world, being identified as an audiophile is akin to ticking the other box on a pre-printed form. To sit back and listen to music in the comfort of one’s listening room is no longer the norm. Exclusivity in the hobby must make way for inclusivity. The singular experience need be shared and communicated with others. Withdrawing the gates, taking down the walls, is not nearly enough. It is time for sacred cows to be put out to that greater pasture.

This future excites as much as I’m sure it terrifies ‘proper’ audiophiles. The reality is that music and audiophile ways of listening to it will continue, and I don’t think they’ll die out anytime soon, but they will continue to shrink, and there is not a cultural change or marketing shift we can make to change that. What I do think will be interesting is to watch how the current generation of young musicians and producers, who have grown up as recording technology has become more accessible, will interact with the audiophile world. Much like today, I suspect you’ll find the majority of them in studios, streaming on twitch and YouTube from home, and yes, going to audio shows—just not the ones we host. If you want to see where these audiophiles of the future are, you should be looking at shows channeling the Zeitgeist: video game soundtrack and sound design conventions, professional music and audio shows, technology and sound conferences. This is where you’ll find the next crop of audiophiles, and the simple fact that they’re making a career out of these things will mean they have better ears and education in all things in sound than most audiophiles ever will, and that doesn’t sound so bleak to me.

(Edited by David Blumenstein)

 

Copy editor: Dan Rubin

3 Responses to Grover’s Travels: A Swiftian Hi-Fi Experience


  1. Glassmonkey says:

    Awesome post. I agree with almost everything here, but have to say I’ve found the British scene a touch less pretentious on the 2-channel side and not as precocious on the HeadFi side.

  2. Ostap says:

    At last year’s Toronto Audio show I was pleasantly surprised when Audio By Mark Jones agreed to play a track from Oneohtrix Point Never in XRCD format. I also feel it is less of a “generational” thing and more about attitude and open mindedness.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popups Powered By : XYZScripts.com